Spartan Education Reform at Michigan State


December 16, 2015

By Michael Dannenberg

The Michigan State football team likes to hail itself as the underdog, the team with the perpetual chip on its shoulder that finds itself having to prove its worth year after year. That drive seems to pay off: Michigan State has won 9 of the last 13 games in which it was the underdog, and made a huge comeback to beat the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes to make it to this year’s Cotton Bowl.


michigan state vs. iowa


If only Michigan State could channel that same drive towards other areas off the football field (and basketball court). Because while academically, in many ways, Michigan State is a fine university, the school’s record and commitment to student body diversity is, well, terrible. Look at what Michigan State’s own data tell us.


Related: The Final Four and Beyond


Consider racial minority and low-income student access to Michigan State. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of undergraduates went up at Michigan State. But during that same period, the number of Black and Latino students went down.

Between 2009 and 2011, net price (that is the after financial aid, out-of-pocket price families pay) went down at Michigan State. Great! But net price for poor students went up by 20 percent. In other words, Michigan State shifted institutional financial aid from economically needy students to those who are not.

There’s more. A meaningful commitment to diversity doesn’t begin at the admissions door or end at the bursar’s office. It should be evident straight through to completion, and it’s on the graduation metric that Michigan State really disappoints.

Michigan State graduates only 3 out of 20 black males enrolled within four years, according to data Michigan State submits to the U.S. Department of Education. That’s not a graduation rate from Michigan State’s School of Education (graduation rates are better there) or just of Michigan State student-athletes. We’re talking about all of Michigan State.

Michigan State 2013 Race and Gender Gra-1duation Rates


And there are huge graduation gaps between white students and underrepresented minorities. Be generous and measure success in graduating students within six years of initial enrollment. Almost 82 percent of first-time, full-time white students complete a bachelor’s degree at Michigan State within six years of initial enrollment. But only 57 percent of black students and only 66 percent of Latino students do the same.

Not only does Michigan State have a huge white-black and white-Latino graduation gap, it’s gotten worse over time. Between 2002 and 2011, the graduation gap at Michigan State doubled in size.


Michigan State 2013 Race and Gender Graduation Rates-2



These are students Michigan State accepted, presumably believing they could do the work at a sufficient level to graduate. Other colleges with similar admissions standards do much, much better than Michigan State.

Florida State, which has a similar average SAT and higher percentage of low-income students and underrepresented minorities compared to Michigan State, has a close to a zero attainment gap between white and underrepresented minority students.

Michigan State is going to be in the news a lot this month, especially as we get closer to the New Year’s Eve Cotton Bowl game against Alabama. I’ll be rooting for Michigan State. I’ve got friends who are alumni. I want the school to succeed, but in more ways than one.